21st Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary 1st Reading Psalm 2nd Reading Gospel
Anglican lectionary
Exodus 33:12-23
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22
Catholic lectionary:
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6


Exodus 33:12-23.
This passage is part of the Old Testament in the Bible and is a significant moment in the narrative of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. This passage features a dialogue between Moses and God, and it provides insights into their relationship and the nature of God’s presence. It is an encounter between Moses and God on Mount Sinai, where Moses seeks reassurance and further revelation from God.

Exodus 33:12
Moses is expressing his concern and seeking clarification from God. He acknowledges that God has acknowledged him and found favour in him, but Moses is seeking assurance regarding who will accompany him and the people as they continue their journey. Moses desires confirmation of God’s presence and guidance.

Exodus 33:13
Moses is requesting a deeper understanding of God’s ways and a closer relationship with Him. He is not only concerned for himself but also for the entire nation, seeking God’s guidance and favour. Moses emphasizes the connection between knowing God’s ways and finding favour, emphasizing the importance of understanding God’s character and will.

Exodus 33:14 
God reassures Moses that His presence will indeed go with them, offering comfort and rest. God’s presence is the ultimate source of rest and peace for His people. This affirms Moses’ request for assurance of God’s companionship on their journey.

Exodus 33:15 
Moses makes it clear that he does not want to proceed without God’s presence. He recognizes the absolute necessity of God’s guidance and companionship. For Moses, it’s better to remain in the wilderness with God’s presence than to proceed without it.

Exodus 33:16 
Moses emphasizes the distinctiveness of God’s people, tied to God’s presence among them. He understands that God’s presence sets them apart from other nations. Moses’ concern is not just for favour but for the clear demonstration of God’s favour through His presence.

Exodus 33:17
God affirms His favour for Moses and the people, assuring Moses that He will indeed be with them. God recognizes Moses by name, indicating a personal and intimate relationship, reinforcing the idea of God’s favour and presence.

Exodus 33:18-23
God displays his goodness.

Psalm 99
This psalm begins with a declaration of God’s sovereignty and kingship. It calls for awe and reverence from the people, acknowledging God’s supreme authority and power. The psalmist emphasizes God’s greatness and exaltation, specifically mentioning Zion, which is often seen as a symbol of God’s dwelling place and the center of worship. The psalmist calls for praise to God’s name, highlighting its greatness and awesomeness.

The word “holy” underscores God’s purity, separateness, and sacredness. In verse 4 the Psalmist speaks of God’s love for justice and righteousness. It acknowledges God’s role as a just ruler, establishing equity and executing justice in the land of Jacob. Encouraging the people to exalt and worship God, recognizing God’s holiness and deserving reverence. Verse 6 recalls significant figures from Israel’s history—Moses, Aaron, and Samuel—who served as priests and intercessors, communicating with God on behalf of the people.

The psalmist refers to God’s communication with the people through the pillar of cloud during the time of Moses. Emphasizing obedience to God’s testimonies and statutes. Verse 8 acknowledges God’s responsiveness to the prayers of the people and highlights God’s forgiving nature, juxtaposed with His role as an avenger of wrongdoings. It concludes with a repetition of the call to exalt and worship God, reiterating His holiness and reinforcing the central theme of reverence and adoration.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
1.    Thanksgiving for Their Faith and Work: Paul commends the Thessalonians for their faith, work, and love for one another. He recognizes their endurance in the face of persecution, indicating their commitment to the Christian faith.

2.    The Gospel’s Power: Paul emphasizes the transformative power of the gospel message, as it came to the Thessalonians not just in words but also with the Holy Spirit and full conviction. This suggests that their conversion was genuine and deep.

3.    Imitators and Examples: The Thessalonians became imitators of Paul and the Lord, serving as examples to other believers in Macedonia and Achaia. Their faith and testimony spread throughout the region.

4.    Turning to God from Idols: The Thessalonians had turned from idolatry to serve the living and true God, reflecting a profound transformation in their beliefs and practices.

5.    Waiting for Christ’s Return: Paul mentions their expectation of Christ’s return from heaven, which was a central belief in early Christian communities.

6.    Rescue from the Wrath to Come: Believers are encouraged to await the return of Jesus, who will rescue them from the coming wrath.This passage emphasizes the Thessalonian Christians’ exemplary faith, love, and transformation through the gospel. It underscores the power of the gospel message and the anticipation of Christ’s return as a source of hope and motivation for believer

Matthew 22: 15 – 22
1.  The Pharisees and Herodians Conspire: The Pharisees, who were religious leaders, and the Herodians, who supported the Roman rule, joined forces to try to trap Jesus in his words.

2.  The Question About Taxes: They ask Jesus whether it’s lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, a question loaded with political and religious implications. If Jesus says yes, he may anger the Jewish people who resented Roman taxation. If he says no, he could be accused of rebellion against Roman authority.

3.   Jesus’ Response: Jesus, recognizing their ulterior motives, asks for a denarius (a Roman coin used to pay the tax) and points out Caesar’s image and inscription on it. He then delivers his famous response: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This implies that while people should fulfill their civic duties, they should also give to God what is due to Him, such as worship, obedience, and their lives.

4.   The Marveling Crowd: The people marvel at Jesus’ response because he skillfully avoids their trap and provides a profound teaching on the relationship between earthly and divine obligations.

Humans, by nature, often seek reassurance and confirmation. In matters as significant as faith and spirituality, individuals desire validation and evidence that they are on the right path or that their beliefs are valid.
Faith involves an element of uncertainty and trust in the unseen. However, doubts can arise, leading individuals to seek confirmation of their beliefs or experiences to strengthen their faith and overcome doubt.

Just as in human relationships, people seek acknowledgement, affirmation, and assurance from God. Knowing that God is present and acknowledging that presence provides a sense of security and comfort. During difficult times, people may question God’s presence or involvement in their lives. In these moments, they seek tangible signs or experiences to affirm God’s presence and guidance through their struggles. In the case of Moses, he had a unique relationship with God, marked by direct communication and divine manifestations. Moses’ request for God’s presence and a sign is driven by his role as a leader and mediator for the Israelites. He wanted confirmation of God’s guidance to lead the people and sought assurance in fulfilling his responsibilities. 

The desire to prove or seek evidence of God’s presence is a fundamental aspect of human nature rooted in the need for assurance, faith, and a sense of security in the spiritual realm. People seek to validate their beliefs and experiences to strengthen their faith and navigate life’s challenges with confidence. The gospel reading implores us to give to the emperor Caesar what belong to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. How I wish the examiners could have prodded further and asked what belonged to God so that Jesus could pull out a mirror. As Christians we know that we bear the image of God and the rest of creation bears His handprint. Sometime humanity might seem as an end to itself but when we pause to look at the very essence of life though the Christian lenses, we discover that man is part of a great divine plan and purpose. That experience is very sobering and humbling. Probably this is one of the reasons when we want to unwind, we take trips out of town and seek shelter in forests and the great outdoors to be reminded that we are part of God’s intricate plan. This belief provides a sense of meaning and purpose for many Christians in their lives and faith. 

I love how Paul says it in Romans 1:20-21 for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. This text aligns with the belief that the natural world is a testament to the existence, power, and attributes of a divine creator. People who hold this belief often argue that observing the intricacies, beauty, and order of the natural world can lead individuals to acknowledge the existence of a higher power. It suggests that God’s presence is evident in the creation around us, serving as a form of revelation accessible to all.

There are several other Bible verses that express the idea of God revealing Himself through nature or creation: 
1.    Psalm 19:1-2: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” 
2.    Acts 14:17: “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 
3.    Job 12:7-10: “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” 
These verses reinforce the notion that the natural world provides evidence of God’s existence, wisdom, and creative power. Encouraging individuals to recognize and appreciate the divine presence through the observation of nature. 
Many authors and theologians have delved deeper into the concept of God’s revelation through nature and creation from a theological or philosophical perspective. Here are a few notable figures whose works explore this concept: 

1.    Thomas Aquinas: Aquinas, a prominent Catholic theologian and philosopher, discussed natural theology and the ways in which the natural world serves as evidence for the existence and attributes of God. His work “Summa Theologica” addresses these themes. 
2.    John Calvin: Calvin, a key figure in the Protestant Reformation, emphasized the doctrine of general revelation, arguing that God’s attributes can be perceived through creation. His teachings can be found in works like “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” 
3.    C.S. Lewis: C.S. Lewis, a 20th-century Christian apologist and author, often explored themes of faith, reason, and nature in his works. Books like “Mere Christianity” and “The Problem of Pain” touch upon these concepts. 
4.    Francis Schaeffer: Schaeffer, a Christian theologian and philosopher, discussed the relationship between Christianity and culture, including the significance of nature in revealing God’s existence and character. His book “He Is There and He Is Not Silent” addresses this idea. 
These authors offer various perspectives and in-depth explorations of how nature and creation can be seen as a revelation of God’s attributes and existence. Their works provide valuable insights into this concept from different theological and philosophical angles. 
Lynn White Jr., in an article entitled “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” (Science March 10, 1967) argues that the root of the entire problem lies in “the Christian maxim that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man” White argues that this mentality is what laid the foundation of Western “arrogance towards nature”. If this is true then we need as a church to correct the narrative and extend concern and care towards the non-human creation. How can we achieve this? By answering God’s call of Creation Care. The doctrine of creation defends against the delusion that “Man is the measure of all things”, a view that is often referred to as anthropocentrism (anthropos is Greek for ‘man’).  

Firstly, creation is God-centred and the heavenly choir praises God for all its parts (Revelation 4:11) including stars and galaxies far from the earthly domain of man.  

Secondly, the creator looks after areas of his work that are of no obvious value to man, such as the wild donkeys in Job 39:5. The universe and the living world were not made solely to be useful to humanity. Each part has value in itself because it is God’s work. This is often called ‘intrinsic value’.

C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters depicts a senior devil who is training a junior devil to intercept a man on the verge of becoming a Christian. The young devil is to deter the man from God, or “the Enemy.” The junior devil tries his best to distract his subject, but after a few weeks returns unsuccessful. The frustrated young devil cannot explain what went wrong, but notes that the man did two simple things each day. Every morning he would get up and go for a long walk, thoroughly enjoying the air, the scenery, and all in all, the walk itself. Then every evening, at then end of his day, the man would curl up with a good book, thoroughly delighting in that book, the reading, the time itself. To this, the senior devil notes sharply: “This is where you went horribly wrong! You should have put it into his mind that he had to get up in the morning and take that walk for the sake of exercise. When you allow man to enjoy creation his mind goes back to the creator, the idea is often expressed through the belief that God’s creation serves as a reflection of His nature, wisdom, and creative power. When people appreciate and marvel at the beauty of the world, it can lead them to recognize the existence and attributes of the divine creator.

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Rev. Dennis Nthenge

Rev. Dennis Nthenge is an ordained Anglican Priest who serves at the Anglican Church of Kenya Head Office and fulfills the role of Green Anglican Coordinator for the Diocese of All Saints Cathedral. He also holds the position of Chairman within the TEARFund-affiliated national environmental movement known as Malizingira, which comprises 25 organizations. Rev. Dennis Nthenge serves as the Patron of the Young Theologians Initiative for Climate Action (YTICA), a club at St. Paul’s University, Kenya and possesses an unwavering and profound passion for the stewardship of creation

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